Kid Hit Menu Items: Stella Rossa Pizza Bar, the sister restaurant to similarly upscale casual M Street Kitchen on Main Street in Santa Monica, has a sensible market-oriented and charcuterie-loaded menu made by a rising hot shot, young stylish chef. Need to hear more? I got a couple pieces of raw kale safely on course to the kids’ digestive tracks while they were busy picking out the pecorino pieces that came with the salad. Victory! (Minor, but I’ll take it.) Shaved mushroom pizza can’t have much black truffle on it for $13.95, but it packs a flavorful punch and wound up being an excellent parsley and fresh herb delivery system. It’s pretty rare our youngest eats ANYTHING covered with that much green stuff. We weren’t given an eye roll for requesting that the egg and chili flakes be set apart from the prosciutto pizza; this way we could first serve our ham-loving 6 year-old, then put the runny egg on it for ourselves. A list of add-ons makes the white or red pies more customizable.
Adult Perks: After a shaky start in the form of an undrinkable, cloying pisco-based based cocktail that I in all seriousness mistook for our son’s lemonade, the waitress nicely suggested I stick with beer or wine. Plenty generous pours by the glass in the $8-13 range, although it’s hard to beat a draft beer or local bottled brew and pizza combo.
Pros: The dining room is big and loud enough to drown out chatter and stuff, even when it’s not packed. Tables by the front windows let in the sunset West Coast magic hour light. (And we could tuck the stroller out of the way.) LGO sold the restaurant on the corner to the Lettuce Entertain You group, which added the pizza spot and created a barbell-like shaped restaurant with two dining rooms on either end of a long kitchen and passageway. Some LGO-derived similarities remain; that sweet mustard dressing on the spinach and purple kale salad tastes awfully like LGO’s Brussels sprouts salad dressing, for example. Anwaym this whole complex is an uncontroversial, well-polished, crowd pleasing kinda joint. The take-out area is definitely a big bonus for locals. I was told kids are given dough to play with but none was brought to us, and since the boys were in good moods (and frankly, happy to stare at the football game on the flatscreens — no parenting awards for me), I left well enough alone.
Cons: Reservations for parties of 6 or more only. Meaning that seats at the high tables, central bar, and regular height tables must all get filled up — with a decibel level to match — at peak times.
Changing Station: Yes
High Chairs: Yes, and boosters.
Parking and Access: Metered street parking (enforced 7 days!) or pricey valet.
Other Tidbits: Those freaky Rip Van Winkle moments keep happening more and more. Inevitable just about anywhere, I suppose, but it’s an experience that feels accelerated in fast-changing cities and their neighborhoods in a constant state of transition and transformation. So walking through the East Village in NYC? Nearly unrecognizable since the 1990s (which is to say nothing of the 1960s — but that was way before my time, ahem). A rare excursion to Venice means constantly blurting out, “WHOA. When did THAT happen?” As for food, pizza on Main Street in Santa Monica when we were kids always meant one place: Wildflour, where we’d shuffle across a sawdust covered floor to bring whole wheat, tasteless pies to the table in a near-windowless room. (Food on the beach was Perry’s.) Now in modern day, snuggly Lululemon-outfitted and dwindling bohemian Main Street, there’s Stella Rossa, an au courant yet accessible pizza place, with big corporate ownership but (apparently) a small market-oriented ethos. Way to know your new market, LEYE.
The fact that it opens for dinner at 4:00 helped us beat the evening crowds AND get to the Pier just after 5 for a quick special bonus visit for the kids. (Thankfully daylight savings time is over and it was nearly dark when the meal ended, because we all feel a little less pathetic for eating dinner at an hour when most Europeans are just finishing lunch, right?) I miss the carbonized crust from the wood oven at our beloved local Mother Dough, and my baking nut husband can be prejudiced against a dough that’s not from natural starter. But Stella Rossa’s is a fine Bakers Pride-finished crust that’s thin and firm — chef Jeff Mahin apparently prefers it to a wood-burning oven — with a nice striated stretch (reminds me a bit of Jim Lahey’s stecca). No soggy middle that’s a part of the traditional Neapolitan pizza experience; probably the folks at Lettuce Entertain You have figured out to a tee that this style plays best with its crowd. And just ignore my old lady grousing about what Santa Monica used to be like, because I’ll chose Mahin’s food at Stella Rossa over those dry crackers covered with cheese served down the street any day.
2000 Main Street, Santa Monica
Cuisine: Pizza, Italian, American
Hours: Monday – Thursday, 5 p.m. – midnight; Friday, 5 p.m. – 1 a.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. – 1 a.m.; Sunday, 10:00 a.m. – 11 p.m.